If you were to give a testimony about how Christ’s grace has changed your life, how would you tell it? As Paul speaks about the effectiveness of the gospel for sinners, Paul pauses in 1 Timothy 1:12-17 to testify about how the gospel completely changed the direction of his life. Paul will say in this passage that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Paul had a definite understanding of where he had been and where he was going because of Christ’s grace and mercy. His testimony can help us see how Christ has worked in our own lives. We have our own testimony of Christ’s grace and mercy. It is vitally important to understand how Christ has specifically and personally changed our lives. We will be encouraged as we consider a dark past that is being redeemed. We will have more definite direction for the future. Not only will our personal testimony of Christ’s grace in us give us a better sense of identity and direction, it will provide hope to the lost world. Let’s first notice verses 12-15.
Before Christ (1:12-13)
Paul begins verse 12 by thanking Christ for appointing him to his service as an apostle. This spontaneous thanksgiving is contrasted in verse 13. Paul has not always been where he is now. Where was Paul before he was appointed to the service of Christ? Notice verse 13. He was a blasphemer, persecutor and insolent opponent. Let’s remind ourselves of Paul’s background. Paul was a Pharisee who was well educated in the Mosaic Law. Paul was zealous for God and a strict adherent to the Law of Moses. As a Pharisee, Paul hated Christians. Their worship of Jesus was blasphemous. Paul killed and imprisoned Christians out of a zeal for God. Acts 8:3 says that Paul “was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” Acts 9:1 says Paul was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Acts tells us that Paul consented to the stoning of Stephen. Some ease the shock of Paul’s sins by building up their perception of his character and devotion to God. “Paul thought he was obeying God.” Paul does not justify his sinfulness. He fully admits his corruption. He was a persecutor of Christians and an opponent of God.
Paul’s past can teach us about our past. What is your “before Christ” story? Just as Paul was brutally honest about his sinfulness, we need to be honest about where we were before Christ. What did your life truly look like before you met Christ? Those who grow up with Christian parents sometimes have a false concept of their goodness as if they never had sinful hearts. We may have been accountable for our sins at one point, but never spiritually dead or condemned! Others without Christian parents may have a better perception of when they left the world for Christ. Often, neither parties look back at their lives before Christ with guilt. We were corrupt and spiritually dead. We cannot look back at our sin with fondness. We need to look on our sin with sorrow and regret as Paul did.
The picture of our lives before Christ was not pretty. Think about what your life was like before Christ came in and began rearranging everything. Who were you? What were you living like? How did this harm others and God’s purposes? We need to paint this picture vividly. Paul will say in verse 15 that he is the worst of all the sinners Christ came to save. What humility! Paul’s vivid understanding of his sin caused him to greatly appreciate Christ’s grace. If we are not explicit and honest about where we were before Christ, we will not appreciate the gravity of what Christ has done for us. Understanding how dead we were keeps us humble for what happens next in our story of Christ’s grace. Understanding how evil we were gives us a clear picture of someone we do not want to return to being. We had no hope. We were darkened in our understanding and lost. We were against God just as Paul was. Now notice how Paul’s changed life matches ours.
After Christ (1:12-15)
Though Paul was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent, God acted. We know the story of Paul’s conversion. He was on the road to Damascus seeking permission to imprison more Christians when the risen Lord appeared to him. Everything changed from there. Christ ripped the murderous persecutor from his path of death and put him on a path towards life and redemption. Paul thanks Christ for strength in verse 12. How was he given strength? “Because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service…” Paul was given strength through his appointment to the service of Christ. He was given the opportunity to be useful. A lead opponent against Christ became an apostle for Christ. A persecutor was entrusted with the gospel. In any other situation, this would sound insane. Imagine asking the school bully to babysit your kids. This wouldn’t make sense at all. The one who was trying to destroy Christianity is now an apostle and mouthpiece for Christianity.
How is it possible to entrust a murderer like Paul with such a glorious gospel? Verses 13-14 give the answer. Paul received mercy. Christ’s grace overflowed for him. For one condemned to eternal death, this is life and heart changing to receive such an outpouring of grace and love. Why wouldChrist grant mercy to Paul? Notice the trustworthy saying in verse 15. “…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Christ offered overflowing grace to undeserved Paul because that’s what he came to the world to do. He came to save sinners. Christ did not leave his throne in heaven to give aid to some good people who needed a little help. Christ came to earth because there was a massive problem. He was crucified because the world was condemned. Do you see how personal this was for Paul? Christ came to save him, the worst of sinners. Paul was awestruck at Christ’s love for him. Christ’s overflowing grace and love was life and heart changing for Paul. This grace is the only way Paul could transform from persecutor to apostle.
We have seen how our stories of sinfulness and corruption are similar to Paul’s story. As we consider the enormous contrast between Paul’s life before and after Christ, we need to compare our redemption story to Paul’s story. Has what happened to Paul happened to us as well? First, Paul’s life was completely redeemed and unrecognizable from what it was previously. The massive love displayed in Christ’s dying love changed his heart. With the clear picture of your unredeemed life in mind, compare it to your current life. Have you changed? How has Christ’s loving grace changed your desires? How has his love eradicated old sins from your life? What fruit has been produced in your life? Each of us is at a different point in this process of redemption. Some have just begun. The story of Christ’s grace in you is in its beginning stages. How is grace changing your life now? For those who are more mature, Christ has been doing a work of redemption in your life for a long time. Trials and temptations have risen along that road. How has Christ’s love and faithfulness rescued you from those dark days? How is he continuing to redeem you? Answering these questions in a specific nature causes us to see and appreciate how much Christ has changed our life. We will have confidence that Christ’s grace will take us through our current battles with trials and temptations.
Second, Paul was redeemed for a purpose. He was cleansed and changed for a particular work. Notice Paul’s testimony to Agrippa in Acts 26:15–18, “And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'” Christ appeared to Paul to both rescue him from sins and appoint him to a specific work to do for his gospel. For what work have you been redeemed? What role do you serve in ministry? Ephesians 4:1 speaks of evangelists, teachers, and shepherds who feed the flock. Romans 12:6-8 speaks of servants, teachers, encouragers, leaders, those who are generous, and those who show abundant mercy. All of these works and gifts are essential for the body of Christ to function. What work did Christ redeem you to do? Changing strengths and situations will cause many to find themselves doing different works at different times in their life.
For some, you are certain of the work you have been redeemed to do. “This is how I fit into the work. Christ has called me for this purpose. I’m a servant or I’m a teacher. I’m a shepherd. I’m an encourager in people’s personal lives. I’m a servant to the needy in the congregation.” You have a clear picture of the story of Christ’s grace in your life. You have been redeemed from these particular binding sins and addictions to do this particular work. Grow in this direction God has given you.
For others, you are not certain of your role. You see how you were previously enslaved to sin, but you do not see spiritual activity. You do not see particular gifts and works for ministry in your life. You are essential for the body of Christ to function on earth. Christ desires to do the same thing with you that he did with Paul. This story of Christ’s grace in our lives must continue from here. His grace must not be stagnant. Study and pray for clarity. Consider your strengths. We will never know how effective we can be until we try. We will never know what kinds of teachers, servants, givers, or shepherds we will be until we try. That’s what I’m doing here. I didn’t know if preaching was my particular role until you guys gave me the opportunity to find out. Even when we try, it will be difficult to build up those strengths. You have seen my struggle to grow! We may try our hands in multiple areas before we find our real strengths. Consider the opportunities in your life. How can you use your strengths? How can you make the most of your opportunities? Christ has set you free from sin to do what work? As we consider the story of Christ’s grace working in our hearts, we must not only know what he has saved us from, but what he has saved us to do. We must know where we have been and where we are going. This gives us a sense of identity and direction. But notice how verse 16 exposes an even greater purpose to this story of grace.
Paul’s Story: An Example to the World (16)
Paul saw how mercy to the worst of sinners brought more than his personal benefit of redemption. Christ showed mercy to Paul so that he could put his perfect patience on display to the entire world. If Christ showed mercy and patience to Paul, the great opponent of Christianity and chief of all sinners, then who cannot receive the grace of Christ? If the worst of all sinners became an apostle, are there any who cannot find a place in Christ’s kingdom? God’s greatest statement of love is seen in is the Son of God’s sacrifice for our sins. Paul’s example ranks high on the list of things God has done to display his love and eagerness to save all to the world. There is no one who can claim worse sins than Paul. We can do no worse than killing God’s people. Paul’s story loudly proclaims Christ’s infinite grace, mercy, and patience to all who desire to believe in Christ’s name.
Paul’s example was a beacon to the world in the first century and it is a beacon to you and I today. Paul was a persecutor and through Christ’s grace and mercy he became a saint, child of God, and apostle of Jesus Christ. If Christ showed mercy to the worst of sinners, he will show it to you. If Christ’s grace is powerful enough to change the heart of the worst of sinners, it is powerful enough to change you and any who would come to Christ. Paul’s testimony is proof to the world of the gospel’s power to save sinners. Paul uses this testimony twice in the book of Acts and probably countless other times in his preaching. Paul was able to testify to Christ’s power to save sinners in a personal way. He was a living example of what Christ could do.
This is the extreme importance behind us having a firm grasp on our own testimony of Christ’s grace in our lives. First, we must know how deeply sinful we were so that we can relate to others’ spiritual emptiness with humility. If we do not have humility in our testimony, others will see our story as a mere opportunity for self-glorification. People do not want to hear about what we have done. We are here to speak about what Christ has done in us. Second, we must know where we are going because of Christ’s grace so we can personally tell others of his changing grace. If we do not speak with confidence about how Christ has changed our life, our testimony will be flat and pointless. If we do not have a passion for this story, others will not see Christ’s work in us. This is one gift that everyone has: tell people about what God has done in your life. Like Paul, we can boldly proclaim for Christ’s glory that we were sinners in our own particular way but we have been forgiven, redeemed, and changed for a particular work in Christ’s church. Our words and life will be testimonies to the world of the power of Christ’s grace.
If all Christians will have this firm hold on their testimony of Christ’s grace, then Christ will have millions of beacons all over the world proclaiming the power of his grace. Average people aren’t going to read the Bible on their own. We are the only Bibles the world will read. We must show God to them, as lights in the world of darkness. This is what Isaiah was speaking of in Isaiah 55:13, “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” We are signs and monuments to the world of the Lord’s grace and mercy. This is the only way you and I know about Christ today. Christians would have faded out of existence long ago if Christ’s grace and mercy had no power to change lives. We know of Christ today because he has been changing people’s lives for 2000 years. We are vital instruments to the continuation of that process. Christ’s redeeming love is being proclaimed to the world through our testimonies of his grace.
Understanding where we specifically were helps us see a life we never want to return to. It helps us have compassion for others who are spiritually dead and lifeless. Understanding how Christ’s love has specifically changed our lives gives us confidence for our current battles. Seeing our specific work in Christ’s body gives us direction for the future. A Christian who knows where he has been and where he is going displays a confidence and surety that the world does not have. Notice how this great work of Christ affected Paul in verse 17. “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” Knowing our story of Christ’s grace will cause us to erupt in praise. This praise must not be contained to our hearts. Our lips must proclaim the praise of our Lord to our brothers and sisters in Christ. The glory of our King must be proclaimed to the world. He has transformed us into spiritual beings full of life. If we are truly full of life, this praise will easily flow from our lips. We will not speak with judgmental words to our family, friends, and coworkers. We will only speak of how awesome Christ is.
Know who you were. Know the story of Christ’s grace in your life. Find what your work of ministry is for Christ. Tell others what Christ has done. People’s souls depend on it.